Civil rights take pride of place in debate
The Debate between PL Leader Lawrence Gonzi, PL Leader Joseph Muscat and AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio at the University campus has concluded with all sides boding well with the student population.
The debate was divided into two segments, the first saw candidates answer questions related to education and civil rights, whilst the second saw questions fielded from the audience.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi spoke about the future of the country being tied in with the future of the students. Civil rights need to be regulated, he argued, adding that laws must be in place to safeguard these non-traditional couples’ rights. He said that these people should have the same rights as married couples.
Dr Briguglio explained that the AD has since the its creation, been advocating its voice on civil rights, further adding that it was at the forefront of the fight to introduce divorce. He reiterated his request for same-sex marriage to be introduced in Malta. Mentioning drugs, the AD plans to decriminalise Marijuana.
Dr Muscat spoke about the PL’s push for divorce prior to the referendum. The PL want to introduce civil unions in order to safeguard the equal rights of all people. Speaking about drugs, the PL understands that if a person is caught with a joint, he shouldn’t be sent to jail but should rather receive counselling.
Dr Briguglio emphasised that love should not be bound by sexual orientation and Green Parties around the world agree with this statement. He mentioned the Whistle Blower Act, arguing that the Government should have introduced the legislation last legislature. On the PL’s backing of divorce, Dr Briguglio commented that the PL only backed the bill at the last minute.
Dr Muscat explained that civil unions are the step which is needed right now rather than gay marriage, emphasising that it will be a major step for the LGBT community. He reiterated that the questions regarding equal pay for people regardless of sexual orientation must be addressed
Dr Lawrence Gonzi argued that the PL and PN both agree on the issue of civil partnerships. He stated that the individual must have the right to love regardless of sexual orientation. He mentioned the PN’s creation of an authority which ensured that there is no discrimination in the workplace. He emphasised that the PN has been on the ‘right side of history’ in education, adding that the doors to the university are open today thanks to the Prime Minister’s party.
Stipends and the private sector
The PL Leader is convinced that after March 9, regardless of who wins the election the people must come together in order to push the country forward. Reiterating to the Prime Minister's comment of the PN being ‘on the right side of history’, Dr Muscat added that the PN was not right in choosing heavy fuel oil. He mentioned the budget, emphasising that having the best possible budget is a top priority, continuing that the private sector will play a large part in the country’s future. Dr Muscat emphasised the need to reduce precarious work. Mentioning Stipends, he ensured that the stipends will be kept and they will be increased to reflect the COLA, adding that stipends will be given to students who need to repeat a year.
The AD Chairperson thanked the PL Leader for taking a page out of the AD’s Manifesto. He expressed his satisfaction at all parties being in agreement on stipends and announced that if Malta had to remove stipends, youth’s from working families would not be able to afford sending their children to study rather than work. Speaking about the private sector, Dr Briguglio mentioned that Malta must take care not to have its arts and cultural sector influenced by profit. He spoke about social justice, indicating that students from the working class are treated differently from the middle class.
The Prime Minister spoke about the economic turmoil within the European Union. Dr Gonzi described the funds he brought back from the EU, adding that Malta is still at risk of a financial crisis. Whoever wins the election, must make tough decisions which will affect all students, he announced, further describing Malta’s advancement over the past five years. He emphasised that the German Chancellor called Malta an example of how to keep a county’s economy on track. The PN Leader described the scholarships the Government have made available for the students at the University, promising to increase the number over the next five years.
Discussing pension reforms, the PL Leader explained that a reform made this legislature included a scheme which slowly raises the pensionable age. He announced that a number of challenges remain and declared the importance of a second pillar pension, which would be paid for by the Government, the employer and the employee. This won’t be introduced right now he explained. He reiterated the PN’s promise to create 25,000 jobs this next legislature, and emphasised the need to further increase the female participation rate.
The Labour Leader agreed with the PN Leader that second pillar pensions cannot yet be introduced as the unions and employers are not ready to commit to this. He discussed the PL’s plans to increase the number of workers, thereby making pensions sustainable and worth-while. Dr Muscat mentioned more family friendly measures, explaining that a reduction in the cost of energy will play a large part in job creation. He mentioned the involvement of the private sector in proposals such as childcare centres. He quoted the 2005 KSU president who said that Dr Gonzi lowered stipends in 2005.
The AD Chairperson emphasised the AD’s agreement with the second pillar, adding that over the next years there will be an increase in the number of pensioners. Dr Briguglio explained that a voluntary pension scheme must never be adopted as this would result in a situation where certain people would not be able to afford a pension , whilst a second pillar guarantees a pension for all workers.
Public transport and student parking
Mentioning public transport the Prime Minister said that the Government must find a way to incentivise the use of public transport. He added that parking facilities for the University must be expanded.
The PL will move towards incentives to help students further their education and find better jobs. He mentioned that more parking spaces at university are needed, however mentioned that public transport must be incentivised but would require a reworking of Arriva.
Dr Briguglio spoke of the problem with Arriva, stating that having Euro 5 buses is a benefit for the environment, however Transport Malta’s handling of Arriva was disastrous.
The PN Leader emphasised that Malta has one of the best graduate employment rates in Europe. He spoke of the IT sector explaining that thanks to the PN, the sector has flourished. He mentioned tourism, insisting that the records achieved year on year speak for themselves.
Dr Briguglio described the tax cuts which the other parties have promised, insisting that this would dismantle Malta’s welfare system. He reiterated that money to make up for these tax cuts must come from somewhere. He addressed the issue of precarious work, stating that in order to incentivise people to enter work, Malta must first have “decent jobs”. He thanked the Unions for recognising the need for Green jobs.
Dr Muscat spoke on bureaucracy and the cost of energy, stating that they are the main barriers stopping the creation of jobs. He mentioned foreign investment, adding that foreign companies would bring more jobs to the island. He mentioned proposals to reduce taxes on part-time jobs and on part-time businesses. He spoke about Standard and Poor’s downgrade, reiterating their statement that Malta needs to diversify its job market. The Pharmaceutical and maritime industries have tremendous potential for growth, he mentioned. The rate of full-time employment in Malta is below average, he cited.
Replying to questions from students, Dr Gonzi announced that over the past five years the PN saved 5,000 jobs, adding that the funds received from Europe will help the PN achieve the 25,000 jobs promised.
Dr Muscat explained that the PL will work with the KSU (University Student Council) ensuring that if they do not agree with the PL, they can still work with together.
When asked about homophobic bullying, the AD Chairperson explained that the country must not allow discrimination and people who do commit acts of bullying must be punished. The PL has agreed with the AD on the issue, stating that there should be no forms of discrimination in society. Dr Gonzi added that laws must be enforced regarding this matter.
When asked why the people should vote for him after voting against divorce, Dr Gonzi explained that his beliefs are his own. In addition he mentioned that he is the Prime Minister who spent millions on students and jobs. Dr Gonzi made reference to the current situation relating to the PL Deputy Leader Toni Abela’s approach of a police officer.
Asked about the ‘costings’ of his energy plan, Dr Muscat stated that these have already been made clear.
In closing, Dr Briguglio emphasised that students are the future of the country. He reiterated his promise to safeguard the environment and enforce civil rights, emphasising that tha AD will be the progressive voice of the country.
Dr Muscat explained that he has tremendous respect for his opponent and emphasised that come March 10, he hopes that all parties can work together,
Dr Gonzi concluded that the choice on March 9 will decide the future of the country over the next five years.